Dallas — The Basement makes its Festival of Independent Theatres debut with The Caveman Play, written by Jeff Swearingen. This group features young adult actors, many of them alums of Fun House Theatre and Film who are looking at opportunities in theater outside of the typical university drama productions.
The Caveman Play is an interesting take on existential questions such as our innate tribalism, male/female dynamics, social power structures, and the acceptance of “the new” in society. Where it succeeds is in the writing and a strong straight-man performance in the star, Chris Rodenbaugh, but there’s also a solid showing from others in the cast: director Doak Rapp as Scrock, Ashleigh Smith as Gorga, Joseph Nativi as Frukin, Laney Neumann as Ugrin, and Taylor Donnelson as Gnarlin.
The pacing is quick with a nice balance of plot development and punchlines, much to Swearengen’s and Rapp’s credit. The bawdy level is in the Goldilocks winner “not too hot,/not too cold” category, but perhaps a bit overly relied upon for a laugh. The costume design and props (uncredited, but presumably by the ensemble) work for comic effect and show budget limitations in a new production.
The conflict of the play has Rodenbaugh’s character, Ugh, questioning the fundamental tenants of his tribe and only ever getting the response “that’s just the way it is” from them, even after he makes useful discoveries that he teaches to his fellow cavepeople. It’s the same struggle that rebels face throughout history, best summed up by Ghandi: “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”
When an animated video introduces the famous experiment of the monkeys and the step ladder to demonstrate pack mentality, the target of this play becomes even clearer.
The production goes into overkill in the closing when the political commentary text overshadows the subtext. The common horror movie adage “never show the monster” would succeed in capturing the tension a bit more than a projected sketch of it on stage during an ominous voiceover in the finale, although it does follow through with the play’s cave drawings that accompany each scene.
That said, when it’s paired with Audacity Theatre Lab’s The Great Dictator, as it was when both plays opened on July 21, it’s a one-two punch at current American politics.
The Caveman Play continues in the following blocks:
- 5 p.m. Saturday, July 29
- 2 p.m. Sunday, July 30
- 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5
Read our interview with Doak Rapp here
See more info about the 2017 Festival of Independent Theatres schedule here.